Now Isn’t the Time to Give Users Control of Their Data

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testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is the latest in a never-ending series of erupting revelations about how companies and governments mine and commercialize our personal data. In an effort to put consumers back in the driver’s seat, recent updates to data protection regulations such as the GDPR in the European Union and the CCPA in California have mandated transparency and control as important pillars of privacy protection. In the words of the European Commission: “It’s your data – take control!”

Empowering consumers to have their say is a noble goal that certainly has a lot of appeal. Yet, in the current data ecosystem, control is little more than a right, it is a responsibility – one that most of us are not equipped to take on. Even though our minds magically catch up with the rapidly changing technology landscape, protecting and managing one’s personal data will still be a full-time job.

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Think of it this way: It’s absolutely wonderful to be in charge of your sailing boat if you’re sailing along the Mediterranean coast on a beautiful day. You can decide how many lovely little towns to head to, and there’s really no wrong choice. Now let’s imagine being in charge of the same sailing boat in the middle of a strong thunderstorm. You have no idea which direction to go, and none of your options seem particularly promising. Having the “right” to control your ship in these circumstances may not be very appealing, and can very easily end in disaster.

And yet, that’s exactly what we do: Current regulations leave people in the middle of a raging technology sea and give them the right to control their personal data. Instead of forcing the tech industry to make systemic changes to create a safer and more friendly ecosystem, we place the burden of protecting personal data on consumers. Taking this step is protecting the creators of the storm more than the sailors.

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In order for users to be able to successfully control their personal data, regulators first need to create the right environment that guarantees basic security, in the same way the Securities and Exchange Commission regulates the investment world and wrongs individuals. Prevents decision making. Under appropriate circumstances, individuals can choose between a range of desirable outcomes rather than a mixture of undesirable outcomes. In other words, we must first tame the ocean before we can hand over more control of their boats to individuals. There are steps regulators can take immediately to calm the waters.

First, we need to make it expensive for companies to collect and use personal data by taxing companies for the data they collect. If they had to pay a price for every bit of data they collected, they would think twice whether they really needed it.

Regulators also need to mandate that defaults are set at adequate levels of protection. Users’ data must be kept secure unless they choose otherwise, a concept known as “privacy by design”. No one has time to build up the privacy for the security of their full-time job. It should be easy to protect the information. Privacy by design minimizes the friction on the path to privacy, and guarantees that basic rights are automatically protected.

Finally, we need to emphasize its widespread implementation existing Technological advances that allow consumers to “get it all”. Because of the way our brains are wired—most of us favor concrete and few rewards in the intangible and uncertain future—our privacy concerns stand against the will of immediate insight, convenience, and Doesn’t give a chance. Service. The shift toward client-side processing of algorithms and user-based computer models, a technique known as federated learning, can help users accomplish both: take advantage of their data without sacrificing their privacy. The fact is that you don’t need to upload all your data to a central server to get personalized recommendations and a convenient service tailored to you. We all have mini supercomputers in our pockets, and with the help of new technological advances, it is possible to run and improve recommendation algorithms locally on individual phones, without any data ever leaving its safe harbor.

The main argument against these common-sense moves is that strict rules will ruin all the amazing benefits we get from companies using our data. But innovations like Google’s GPS-based navigation system, or Alexa’s voice recognition are only the brightest lights in the dark cloud of data-mining. You don’t benefit from accessing your photo gallery from your Weather app and tapping into your microphone. It’s no use saving your every keystroke from Facebook (including the keystrokes you’ve decided to delete). And in most cases, you don’t get any benefit from having your data sold directly or indirectly as advertising to third parties. Taxing companies for the collection of personal data, shifting the default to a sufficiently high level of security, and using technologies to process personal data locally are ways companies can create real value for their customers. Will force you to search. Lip service and simplistic promises will no longer work. If companies don’t create value, they don’t get data. And if they don’t find ways to allow their customers to enjoy their product without compromising their personal information, a more progressive competitor will.

Creating a more user-friendly, human-centred, protective data ecosystem is critical to consumer empowerment. And this is a step that must be taken before this We can possibly live up to regulatory promises to control our own data. The systemic changes I suggest are not easy. They require courage and perseverance. But it is only when the seas calm that control over one’s data becomes a “right” again, and not just a responsibility that we alone are bound to fail.


wired opinion Publishes articles by external contributors representing a wide range of perspectives. read more opinions Here, and see our submission guidelines Here, Submit an op-ed at [email protected],


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